My Turn: New Hampshire shouldn’t put more restrictions on school-based research

For the Monitor
Last modified: Wednesday, March 02, 2016
In 2011, 28 percent of New Hampshire’s 12- to 18-year-old students reported being bullied in school. Following the publication of this research, the state Legislature strengthened New Hampshire’s student safety and violence prevention laws. By 2013, research showed a 44 percent drop in the number of bullying cases reported.

School-based research enabled policymakers and schools to identify the issue, then implement and evaluate programs to address it. And as New Hampshire grapples with the heroin crisis, school-based research tells us that nearly 8 percent of New Hampshire teens used prescription drugs without a doctor’s order in the last 30 days, highlighting the importance of addressing the heroin crisis with our children.

Despite the proven value of school-based research, the New Hampshire Senate votes this week on a bill that makes this work more expensive and unreliable. SB 320 requires parents to sign a permission slip before a student is allowed to complete anonymous surveys at school, virtually eliminating our ability to conduct the research needed to continue promoting the well-being of New Hampshire children and communities.

Studies requiring active parental consent often end up with fewer respondents, and skewed results because of an under-representation of students who experience poverty, substance abuse, violence, and other adverse health and social indicators. But it is precisely these students who are at the greatest risk and who most need to be included in this research. It is unquestionably important that New Hampshire balance the need for good data with parents’ rights to be involved with their child’s education.

Last session, the Legislature passed a law requiring parental notification before a survey could be administered to students. This is a good law that ensures parents understand the survey being conducted and have ample time to opt their children out of a study. It’s a mistake to drastically change the law before it has time to work, particularly as evidence suggests it is working.

The detrimental impact of this change would be felt by organizations across New Hampshire, including those working to protect the public’s health. Data from this research is key to ensuring the correct programs and interventions are available to our children and families, and integral to securing funds to support those initiatives.

For these reasons, the New Hampshire Public Health Association and nearly a dozen organizations oppose this bill. Other groups in opposition include the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the New Hampshire Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative, the New Hampshire Comprehensive Cancer Collaborative, UNH, Dover and Strafford County Drug Free Community coalitions, and more.

New Hampshire is wrestling with a number of public health issues, many of which impact the safety and well-being of our school-aged children. Well-conducted, ethically informed school-based research does not harm children or families. In fact, it helps children and families by providing cost-effective solutions to solving problems.

Enacting unnecessary restrictions on this work will only serve to blind us all to the information needed to make good decisions for the future of New Hampshire.

We urge the state Senate to support the welfare of children and families, and vote no on SB 320.

(Katie Robert lives in Concord.)